While population health is a hot topic among health professionals, it is still in its infancy in medical education, leaving many graduates feeling ill-prepared to identify and address health disparities. Two recent student-led projects took tomorrow’s doctors out of their own classrooms and into those of the communities they will one day serve to better understand the social determinants of health. The projects also provided insights into health professions for children who might have otherwise assumed they were not cut out to work in medicine.

Nicole Paprocki and Carol Platt, second-year medical students at the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine (CCOM) at Midwestern University, were third-place winners of the AMA’s 2016 Medical Education Innovation Challenge. The contest awarded monetary prizes to four student teams for projects that answered the question, “What does the medical school of the future look like to you?”

Their answer, “Community and classroom approaches to cultural competency and health equity,” included two student-organized, volunteer service-learning projects at Chicago and Gary, Indiana, schools in underprivileged areas.

Informed largely by what Paprocki and Platt learned at the 2016 National Minority Quality Forum Leadership Summit on Health Disparities, in Washington, the projects were intended to give medical students a deeper understanding of the upstream causes of health inequalities, build longitudinal relationships between medical students and underserved communities, and increase interest in and access to health careers among children from groups that historically have been underrepresented in medicine.

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